Monday, March 21, 2011

Snarky theology 3: Evolution, Creationists, and other Irritants.

The third in our Snarky Theology series for Lent.  Round one was on how Catholics are Cannibals.  Round two was some simple (Perhaps even simple minded.) thoughts on Lent itself.  I had considered making this about sex, but after last week, I think I'll hold off on the incendiary topics for another week.

This week, let's take a look at evolution ... No, I don't think it's an incendiary topic.

Evolution: the premise that humans came from other species.  Monkeys seem to be at the top of the list of suspects.

Apparently, it's quite important to some people.

Seriously, deeply, psychotically important.

You have the really weird creationist museum. Which should either be there as comic relief, or set on fire. Pick one.

But I've noticed there's two sides to the so-called debate, where they take the idea of evolution and decide to apply it to religion.

Really, people? What is your problem?
 Creationists: The Bible is literal, but we have dinosaurs, which weren't in the bible.  Which indicates a time period before the Bible, but the Bible is the end all and be all of all of history? NOOOOOOOO.  How can we reconcile dinosaurs with the book?  I know, dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden!  Let's have Adam and Eve and a VELOCIRAPTOR! BWAHAHAHA!!

Evolunatics: God is dead! The Bible was meant as a literal chronology of all of human history, but we have dinosaurs!  It's all wrong!  All of it!  MUWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Then I roll my eyes, sigh, and shake my head.  At the end of the day, I look at both sides, and decide that this particular asylum isn't being run by the psychologically stable.

Does it matter where we came from? Scientific research might benefit from such knowledge, sure. But, from what I've noticed, there's enough conflicting evidence to show that it's a nice theory, not a dead-certain fact. 
However, evolution has become a religion. It's sort of like man-made global warming—which is hard to prove considering that our evidence is the geological equivalent of a eyeblink in the history of the universe.  And, living on the East coast this winter, I would really, really like my global warming already.

How does evolution effect me, a Catholic?

Not at all.  Not a bit.  Not even for thirty seconds.

Looking at genesis, God made the world in six days, rested on day seven. While I think it is a very nice generation of a story based on the theology of the day (over two thousand years ago), I don't think that God needs a nap.

If there is a God, qualities He should have include omnipotence—naps should not be required.

Do I think it's more likely that someone wrote the story with the concept that “well, we're supposed to rest on the Sabbath, the seventh day, therefore, so did God”? Yes.

Then there's the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve. I, and the Vatican, last I checked, look at the story more as a parable: the first sin that man ever committed was pride, the first time that someone said “I am more important than my neighbor / God / insert someone here.” There's a reason that, in most mythology, Greek, Roman, et al, pride kills about as often as all the other causes put together.

I can look at the story of Genesis and easily reconcile it to the Big Bang.

“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Expand “Earth” to “everything” and that sounds like a good enough description of nothingness as I could generate.

“And God said 'Let there be light.' ” Sounds like an explosion to me.

And before this degenerates into a line by line reconstruction of Genesis via science, I'm going to end it with saying, simply: if God fits the model generated by Thomas Aquinas, He is eternal, and thus outside of time; who's to say what a day is to Him? Six days, sixty billion years, same difference.

The difference between Catholics and some evangelical / fundamentalist Christian groups is that Catholicism rejected literalism as a heresy over fifteen hundred years ago.

As for evolution: if the premise is right, then fine, great, it is merely the mechanism God used to create people. As Cardinal Baronius (1598) said, “The bible tells us how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go.”  (Googling this, I had about four different citations to the quote, so don't shoot me.)

But, right now, what does it matter? Seriously, as Sherlock Holmes once said, "What the deuce is it to me?.... [Y]ou say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work."

And, until my works of science fiction become publishable, the solar system doesn't matter to me, either. Evolution will probably never become important to me and my work … if only because James Rollins already wrote that book (Altar of Eden).

Science likes to talk about how it's been a poor, persecuted field of endeavor, starting with Galileo ...

Well, Galileo was prosecuted for two things. One, he taught a theory as though it was a fact.  Saying that the Earth goes around the sun was unsubstantiated at that time for several reasons.  1) We could not observe stellar parallax (if the Earth moves, we should be able to see the stars change position relative to each other; stellar parallax was unobservable until the mid-eighteenth century).  2) If the Earth is moving at a thousand miles an hour, why doesn't feel like it's moving; and why haven't we flown off it yet? Science is still shaky on these points.

What else was Galileo prosecuted for?  Well, it could have had SOMETHING to do with the fact that he publicly made fun of the Pope, who had been his friend, and, well, you know what happens when good friendships go sour, they end badly.  He had never once been threatened with being burned at the stake.  He was sentenced to house arrest.  According to letters with his daughter, a nun, he actually agreed with his jail sentence as a just punishment ....

And yes, I am a nerd of many colors.

Evolution has it's own "martyr" in John Scopes.  For those unfamiliar with the The State of Tennessee v. Scopes, it was made into the play "Inherit the Wind"-- a teacher was put on trial in the southern United States for teaching evolution in school.  William Jennings Bryan, three time presidential candidate for the Democrats, argued for the prosecution, while Clarence Darrow ran the defense.

Here's the problem: atheist scientist Daniel Dennett is on the side of the prosecution in that case, because the evolution of Mr. Scopes called for sterilization of rednecks, and other "undesirables."  The book Scopes used is called Civic Biology.  I particularly like the section called "The Remedy."

Creationists: You want to take every single word of the Bible literally? Fine, then why aren't you all Jews for Jesus?  Evolution isn't a threat to you if you put five seconds of thought behind it.  And you people are putting way too much money into defending something that's really rather stupid.  Most of you are in Kansas (what is the matter with Kansas, anyway?  First Creationism, now Fred Phelps. Is it something in the water?).

Evolunatics: if you're right, any sensible person of faith should dismiss evolution as simply “God's mechanics.” And even if you are right, stop using the Scopes trial as a stigma to beat a dogma.  Anyone who reads Scopes' textbooks will not be on your side.  If you wish to back Scopes to the hilt, eugenics and all, Cold Spring Harbor and Auchwitz are both thataway (points East).

On the one hand, with "Intelligent Design," I think it's an uncessary argument, due to the paragraph above.
As for evolution ... Evolution is a nice theory. From what I've seen, it assembles most of the puzzle pieces that evidence has handed over. Is it a fact according to the rigorous standards of science that I was brought up with? Not last time I checked. Then again, with the standards of science I grew up with, you practically needed video evidence of something happening to prove that it happened and how it happened, and sometimes not even that is enough evidence.

We have audio recordings of echoes from the big bang, and even that isn't enough for some people. Why? "Oh dear, if there's a definitive start to the universe, someone might use that to prove there's a deity" .... I'm actually serious on that part. Stephen Hawking dedicated a whole theory on the start of the universe that involves time loops, making the universe a self-sustaining phenomenon ... and I just lost you, didn't I? I'll put away the Star Trek terminology now.   The short version is that some scientists would rather come up with badly written science fiction then even have a good scientific theory that might, may possibly, give ammunion to all of those "annoying God-people."

While Aquinas had an argument for God called the argument from causation, I wouldn't expect any good scientist to say the equation is "Big Bang = God." I would expect a good scientist to come up with scientific reasons following evidence they have.  Self-sustaining time loops do no count as good science. I don't even think they are good science fiction.

But, as far as evolution goes, it isn't even a significant portion of the puzzles pieces that are my life, and I seriously, seriously wonder about people on both sides of the issue. The creationists are really rather weird. On the other, you have the evolution crowd who want to declare that God is dead because of evolution.

I think they're both invalid arguments.

So, to the creationists and the evolunatics, I say: Calm down, the both of you.  Not only are you both embarassing yourselves, you've both spent enough time and energy fighting over this that you could have cured cancer by now.

(And, oh, yeah, Kansas, if you spawn another delusional, foaming at the mouth band of lunatics, I'm going to start a petition to have all of the floride in your water system replaced with thorazine.  Capisce?)

[Update: It has been pointed out to me my Mr. Gerrity (below) that some topics have been shafted in this article.  One, I thought that creationism had been linked to within the document, for those people who are not already familiar with the BS involved.  Two: this is called snarky theology.  I'm trying to entertain as well as give a slight education.  If you desire more on this topic, and in a more serious manner, then please say so below.  I will not write a new, serious, piece of apologetics that will probably make my own eyes glaze over if only one person is going to read it.  And, three, Richard Dawkins will get his own, special blog, much much later.]


  1. You've missed the mark with this one, John. Misrepresenting the fundamental debate, failing to address the fact of evolution, and sidestepping or ignoring the fundamental issues of evolution in Catholicism, you've said that the strawman of creationism need not be knocked down, and yet not much more than that. I believe you can proffer a more robust of the theolofy of evolution, and I exhort you to do so.

    First, the fundamental debate is not between creationists and evolutionists on the theory of human evolution. Human evolution, the emergence of homo sapiens from less complex species over millions or billions of years, is a high-end, theoretical implication of a very basic and undeniable fact: there is an observable change in life over time though the inheritance of genetic characteristics. The denial of the basic facts means that the creationists will never agree with evolutions. Its acceptance, however, does not necessarily force the evolutionist to accept the theory of human evolution. Any debate about high-end theories of human evolution, therefore, is only among people who accept the fact of evolution in the first place. The debate over the fact of evolution is what divides creationist against evolutionist.

    Second, I would like to see a greater exploration of that fact of evolution. What is the most fundamental articulation of a change over time? What observable evolutionary phenomena are seen daily? How do creationists (if they must be discussed at all) address these changes?

    Third, and perhaps most germane to this blog, is the absence of the Catholic perspective on evolution. What impact does the theory of human evolution have on the human personhood of Christ, and vice versa? What is the stance of Catholic research universities on biology, genetics, and evolution science? What are the applications of Catholic moral theology on the genetic sciences, such as three-parent in vitro fertilization (which, of course, creates a change in life over time by removing mitochondrial genetic disorder from offspring)?

    I think these are the best blog questions. Cross-calls to Galileo, Big Bang science, and the eugenics of a previous century miss the mark by diluting or distracting from the pressing matters of Catholicism present in a robust issue.

  2. It seems apparent to me that there is some confusion about the theory of evolution. First of all, evolution is an obserable fact. Evolution as a fact merely says that populations change over time. For example, if you have an infection and are taking antibiotics, some of the bacteria will have an immunity to that antibiotic. Those bacteria not immune will die and thus, the new population will include more immune bacteria. Poof! Evolution!
    The theory comes into play when you refer to the mechanism. For example, the theory of evolution by means of natural selection (among the many others). What this says is that populations change according to external pressures. In the example above the external pressure would be the antibiotic (yes, i know this is actually artificial selection, but the concept is the same), that caused the population to evolve to a population with antibiotic resistance.

    Hope this clears some things up.


  3. To anonymous -- bacteria is one thing, can you observe it in entire species that are not monocellular in nature? Can you prove that it's applicable to every species? Can you prove it multiple times for every species ... is there even an experiment to prove it?

    Tom: when someone writers a blog called snarky theology, don't expect a treatise. I think all of the questions you've raised are interesting, but unless everyone else would like to see that, I suspect it's only interesting to uber-nerds like us ... just a thought.

    So, for everyone else following this comment thread: if your eyes did not glaze over while reading Tom's comment, and you want me to follow up on it in depth, say so.

  4. Oh, and for kicks, here, have a link.

    Or three

  5. all living things are composed of single cells. that's the genius of it. as to whether you can prove it for all of those instances no. but do me a favor, keep dropping a ball on the floor for the rest of your life to see if it ever stays in midair to prove the theory of gravity.

  6. Oh and examples of macro scale evolution...animal and plant domestication by means of artificial selection. Where else do you get seedless oranges or crazy mutant kfc chickens

  7. Again, I'm going back to the whole "requires video tape evidence" standard of evidence. Everytime someone declares something unequivocal, we change it. Science is science ... until Newton is replaced by Einstein, replaced by Quantum physics ...

    However, I think this all misses the point of the article.... that this is all a stupid, pointless argument. I don't care what the hell the mechanics are, evolution does not equal "God is dead." And a creationist museum with dinosaurs in the garden of Eden, just as stupid!

    Thank you.

  8. Newton's ideas were never replaced but just became much more refined by General Relativity, not Quantum mechanics.

    As for "video tape evidence" how bout a dog show? They televise those don't they?

  9. Dear anonymous ... what part of "I think evolution as a theory puts together most of the puzzle pieces" did you not understand.

    I just said they're freaking irrelevant. Thank you.

  10. don't you fake cuss at me!

    I find your use of the word "irrelevant" to be quite disturbing. If it's irrelevant than why try to gain knowledge at all? Why try to use newfound knowledge to better the world? Nope. Irrelevant. we don't need medicine, food, books, or anything. We just need to be sedentary lummoxes who don't even care to learn about the world around us. All we need is something to eat, something to drink, and somewhere to defecate.

    You're welcome


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